Cici takes Abeni deeper, into the heart of the market, aware that Saniya and Jarlath are somewhere off to her left, but not entirely sure of their position. It doesn't matter; there are guards about as well as the two of them, and all of them know Saniya and her family. Besides, Jarlath is good at his job and is probably keeping a proper eye on Saniya.
Cici wishes she could say the same. She can't seem to focus when she's around Abeni at the moment; it's a problem, definitely, and one she needs to overcome. Still, it seems unfair to let her wander around the market on her own, despite the fun she seemed to be having. Cici's noticed the way Abeni owns almost nothing aside from the clothes on her back. She can imagine that Abeni plans to give her whole life to that village, expecting nothing in return.
She might as well have some fun whilst she's here, away from them.
Abeni doesn't protest as they weave through the crowd; she's been silent since Cici took hold of her and Cici knows why; can see it in her eyes when she glances over her shoulder. Truthfully, she's been able to see it for a while now, but she still doesn't know what to do. It's alright for Jarlath to say whatever he likes; to have expectations of what she'll do. He doesn't know what it's like to experience that kind of rejection, does he?
She sighs and tugs a little harder, feeling Abeni's wrist twist slightly at the increase in pressure. "Where are we going?" Abeni asks, finally, her wits seemingly catching up with her.
"I know a place," Cici replies with a shrug. It's not at all specific and she hears Abeni's disgruntled sigh, but there's still no protest. Abeni has an extraordinary amount of trust in her, and Cici wonders if she's earned it or not.
"Here," she says finally, stopping in front of a stall that carries bolts of fabric, every colour and texture that Cici could even imagine. When she turns, she sees Abeni's eyes are wide as saucers as she takes the whole place in.
"Wow," she mutters and Cici grins. Wow, indeed.
"They've got dresses, too," she says, "I just didn't know if you'd prefer to take some of the cloth back with you - if you could make your own."
Abeni shakes her head. "I can't do that," she replies, "I'm a hopeless seamstress." She reaches out and lets her fingers play across a silken material; a deep, royal blue. "But I'd love a dress from here. I bet it's expensive."
"Cheaper than buying from a merchant," Cici says. "Cheaper still if you've got someone with you who's good at haggling."
Abeni grins at her then, all white teeth and crinkled eyes and Cici fights off a blush. The woman who owns the stall pops her head out then - perfect timing, Cici thinks - and scrutinises them for a long moment.
She raises her eyebrows when she sees Cici. "What do you want?" Her accent is thick, from the countryside and it's clear to Cici that Abeni barely understands her.
"My friend wants a dress," Cici replies. "And at a reasonable price, if you don't mind."
The woman grumbles but nods, ducking back around the stall and turning her back on them as she searches. Cici takes a step closer to Abeni, so that they can talk without being overheard. "She's the best in the business," Cici whispers. "She'll find you something that suits you perfectly - though if you don't like it, you're still free to pick something else, of course."
Abeni nods slowly. She looks a little dumbstruck, like she doesn't believe this is really happening. Cici smiles again, bumping her shoulder gently. Saniya shops here often, which is how Cici came to know the place. On the first trip, she reflects, she probably looked just like Abeni does now; same expression and all.
The woman turns, holding up a dress in a silken purple, a colour richer than any Cici has ever seen. The woman glances between Abeni and the dress a few times, before nodding to herself, apparently satisfied.
"It should be the perfect colour," she says. "Maybe a little dark, but I think you can make it work. If not, there's a green that would look good on you, or a blue."
Abeni looks mesmerised, however, and Cici knows it's this dress she wants - can see it from the reverent way she touches the fabric and, on the woman's nod, holds it up to see if it will fit her body.
"How much?" Cici asks.
The woman looks between them. "For a friend… six coins."
Abeni looks startled, but Cici laughs. "Like it cost you even half that to make," she replies. "Four."
The woman bites back a snarl. "You have no idea how much work went into that. It's fit for a princess! Five and a half is my final offer."
Cici crosses her arms across her chest and smirks. "Four, or we're out of here and we're taking our business with us. I've seen a lovely little stall across the way. Newly opened, isn't it? I bet they're taking what they can get right now, with you so close by."
"You'll not get quality over there," the woman retorts.
"We'll have to try," Cici says. "Come on, Abeni."
Abeni turns, startled, and Cici nods at her encouragingly. She drops the dress back onto the stall. They get two steps away before the woman shouts after them, "All right, I'll take four!"
Cici allows herself a satisfied smirk before she turns back around. "I thought you might see it my way." She nods and Abeni pays her; she's still got a good amount of coin left, from what Cici can see. The woman wraps the dress for them and Abeni takes it gently, like she might somehow break it if she's too rough.
"Come on," Cici says, nudging her gently. "There's a lot more to see here."
They finish shopping when the merchants begin closing up and find Saniya and Jarlath at the edge of the market, Jarlath weighed down with what are obviously Saniya's purchases. Saniya grins when she sees the wrapped bundle in Abeni's arms.
"Cici took you to Sal, huh?" she says. Abeni nods, smiling slightly. She still doesn't understand what possessed her to purchase the dress - Cici told her afterwards that six coins was a reasonable price, but even four seems too much-
It was something about the look on Cici's face, she thinks. She'd seen the dress; and it was beautiful, definitely - something she would wear in a dream - and when she'd looked at Cici-
She'd looked so happy to see Abeni happy.
"Can I see it?" Saniya asks.
"When she wears it to dinner tonight," Cici replies before Abeni can even think of an answer. Abeni looks up sharply instead.
Cici shrugs. "We didn't have dinner with Saniya's parents last night," she says, "It was more like a report. They like to have dinner with us after a job. It's a pleasant enough affair, but you have to dress nicely."
Saniya nods eagerly. "I'll wear a dress I bought from Sal too, it'll be perfect!" she exclaims."You'll enjoy it, too, Abeni, there's lots of different food and mother and father like you, so it won't be awkward, like some of the dinners we've had-"
She looks to Jarlath, who grins unrepentantly. He seems to have cheered up since the morning, though the bags under his eyes are still pronounced. Abeni just hopes the remedy will work; he can't work as a bodyguard for Saniya if he's half asleep all the time.
"Let's go back," Saniya says finally, looking around. It's dusk and Abeni notices that the sky is different here, there's a difference in the air. She misses home suddenly, fiercely.
Cici touches her elbow gently and Abeni notices Saniya and Jarlath are some way off in front, Saniya talking animatedly to him. "Are you okay?" she asks.
Abeni opens her mouth and she's tempted to tell Cici everything: that she loves it here, but wants to go home, that she wishes she could stay here forever, but bring her village with her, that she'd like Cici to come back with her-
"Fine," she says, instead.
Cici smiles and Abeni smiles back, falling into step with her as they walk back to Saniya's house.